COMMITTEE INTERVIEWS: A BALANCING ACT

Usually as a second step in the interviewing process, be prepared to encounter a 30-minute committee interview in which eight to ten interviewers are seated around the table. It’s important to grasp which stakeholders each member is representing. Usually participants will introduce themselves and tell you: “Jane Smith, President of the PTA,” for example. If their roles are not evident and they seem friendly, it’s okay to ask, “And what is your role?”

I suggest that you quickly sketch the shape of the table on the pad that you carry in. As the panelists introduce themselves, jot down their stakeholder groups. As the panelists take their turn in asking their question, glance at your notes. Knowing their roles will give you a lot better context as to the implication of the question. However, be aware that your answer must satisfy all stakeholders. Your answer is not limited only to the questioner. You must know your audience(s).

A parent who is serving on a panel asks, “Assume that a parent calls you and complains about how her child’s teacher is criticizing her child in the presence of the other children. Her child is very upset by this, and the parent wants his class changed. How would you deal with this situation?” As you look around the table, ask yourself how do the various stakeholders want you to respond. My guess is that the parents want you to be a good listener and take the request seriously. They expect that you will investigate the situation and get back to the parent promptly. The teachers prefer that you’ll be reluctant to change the child’s class, and that you will be supportive of the teacher. The school administrators will be focused on your diplomacy as to how you will neither alienate the parent nor the teacher, and the process you will use in investigating the situation. Finally, the central office leaders will be attentive to how you will avoid escalating the situation.

You must use caution and diplomacy in your answers so as not to sound hostile to one stakeholder group in deference to another group of stakeholders, which might have an opposing view on the same issue. The ability to do this balancing act requires the recognition that you are performing to all stakeholder groups, and that your response will be reasoned and acceptable to all. This requires coaching and practice. In a real sense, this balancing act is what successful leaders do every day.

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